My front door faces almost due west. Our long driveway reaches the road by way of tall loblolly sentinels on both sides. Before dawn, as I walk to the end to retrieve my newspaper, I have lately been bathed in the light of the setting full moon, shining like a beacon just above the treetops.
While the moon still rules the sky, the deep hoots of Barred Owls echo through the bare forest. It is an eerily exquisite moment, when night light still dominates. Until I turn, newspaper in hand, to walk due east back to the house. Now the balance of light begins to change.
I can barely see the eastern horizon, dimly illuminated by the just-waking sun. The owls go silent as White-throated Sparrows trade plaintive calls in the dimming moonlight.
I turn back to the west to find that the moon is sinking fast, now partly hidden by the trees.
Low clouds in the east begin to catch the sun’s rising light, painting the floodplain forest in brightening pastels.
The water in the creek glows pink, reflecting sky and forest, creating bright spots on an otherwise dark forest floor.
A neighbor’s rooster announces dawn’s official arrival. Flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds gather on a towering Sweet Gum, dancing like acrobats to retrieve seeds from still dangling seed balls. A flock of two dozen Cedar Waxwings whistle to each other. I can just make out their silhouettes in the top of a Walnut tree.
The eastern sky grows brighter as more birds join the morning chorus.
I turn one last time, searching for the moon, now dimmer as the sun’s light begins to assert itself.
In a matter of five minutes, the balance of light has shifted as the moon sinks below the western horizon and the sun colors the eastern one.
Hungry does emerge from their hiding places to graze what they can before a distant hunter’s rifle shot scatters them back to the shadows.
The dance between moon and sun is never more apparent in my landscape than around the Winter Solstice. The bare trees of the deciduous forest open up sight lines, allowing both orbs to show themselves as they first emerge above the horizon.
I know some folks dislike the darkness of our winter months, but frankly, I think that’s because they’re not paying attention. Or perhaps they just don’t waken early enough to be heartened by the ever-changing, yet always constant balancing act between light and darkness. And perhaps they don’t realize that darkness only fully rules a few nights a month while the moon sleeps.
The Barred Owls know. They don’t stop their pipe organ calls during new moons. They know she’s still with us, just as they know that Winter’s cold is a necessary and welcome pause before the growing season commences in earnest.
Today marks the Winter Solstice, the point at which dark night is its most lengthy. Beginning tomorrow, the balance of light shifts back toward the sun. Before I can blink twice, green buds will be swelling, and spring vegetables will need to be planted.
For a few more weeks, I will luxuriate in Winter’s slower pace and enjoy the shifting balance of light. Soon enough, Spring’s frenzied energy will carry me into another growing season.
Happy Winter Solstice, everyone!